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Oceans play a crucial role for our life on Earth and we need decisive action to protect them from the effects of climate change, pollution and destructive fishing practices. We need to designate and implement effective Marine Protected Areas, preserve marine biodiversity, and put an end to overfishing.
In the 2019-2024 legislative term, I am working on all these issues in the European Parliament's Committee on Fisheries. Join me in protecting our oceans, safeguarding the resilience of marine life, and promoting more sustainable, low-impact fishing.

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The 2030 EU Biodiversity Strategy: a step forward in protecting marine life

05/20/2020

The 2030 EU Biodiversity Strategy: a step forward in protecting marine life
Our oceans are a source of incredible abundance and diversity of life. Unfortunately, marine ecosystems face a number of stressors, ranging from the effects of climate change, to pollution, overfishing, and other extractive activities. Preserving marine biodiversity has countless benefits for the well-being of our planet, as well as social and economic benefits. Despite the alarming rate of biodiversity loss, oceans can be incredibly resilient and the potential for recovery exists. However, we need to act urgently and decisively.

Today we mark the European Maritime Day, which is an opportunity to discuss how we can reverse the trend of biodiversity loss and work towards a more sustainable use of our oceans. The European Commission has just published the 2030 Biodiversity Strategy. The strategy outlines our direction in tackling the biodiversity crisis in the next ten years and plays an important role in the upcoming negotiations on the global post-2020 biodiversity framework, to be adopted at the 15th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 15). While COP15 has been postponed due to the COVID-19 crisis, the adoption of the post-2020 biodiversity framework needs to remain at the top of the agenda. Especially in the light of COVID-19, the importance of safeguarding biodiversity has been made clear.

The 2030 Biodiversity Strategy emphasizes the need for a legally binding commitment to protect at least 30% of our oceans by 2030. The Greens/EFA Group has been calling for more ambitious targets for years as the internationally agreed target of 10% protected areas until 2020 is way too low. And our advocacy has paid off. We welcome the 30% target, which is in line with scientific advice, as well as the advice of environmental NGOs. It is important that the progress towards that target is accurately measured and reported. The current target - 10% by 2020 - has technically been reached, as Europe has designated 12.4% of our oceans for protection. However, in reality only 1.8% of those protected areas are covered by effective management plans. Designating a marine protected area (MPA) for protection is only the first step in preserving biodiversity. MPAs need effective management plans with clear conservation objectives and guidelines on how to reach those objectives. They need proper monitoring and evaluation systems, as well as clear and transparent reporting.

The strategy also calls for 10% among the 30% protected areas to be under strict protection, with the Commission planning to put forward a clear definition of strict protection. The level of protection is important for biodiversity conservation, as research shows that only strongly or fully protected MPAs can yield the desired results in conservation of biodiversity. Today only a small percentage of Europe’s MPAs is protected from all extractive activities, and many others allow for a wide range of activities, in some cases even destructive fishing practices such as bottom trawling.

The strategy also rightfully focuses on the need to fully implement the existing regulation relevant to the issues of oceans and fisheries, such as the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), as well as the Birds and Habitats Directive. The implementation of these policies has been insufficient so far. The objective of MSFD was for oceans to reach good environmental status by 2020, but this has not been achieved. Overfishing, pollution, and the effects of climate change have not been tackled with the adequate level of urgency and ambition. The lack of implementation and compliance with existing regulation should be appropriately addressed.

In the strategy, the Commission commits to introducing a new action plan to conserve fisheries resources and protect marine ecosystems by 2021, and measures to limit the use of fishing gear most harmful to biodiversity will be introduced where necessary. It is a priority to use low-impact, sustainable fishing methods, and to discourage fishing practices that are damaging to the marine ecosystems.

The strategy underlines the importance of coherent maritime spatial plans that Member States are required to deliver by March 2021. Member States need to honor their commitments on that, including carrying out consultations with all relevant stakeholders, authorities and the public. All actors need to be on board for the development and implementation of coherent and successful maritime spatial plans.

The strategy also reinforces the need for the EU to advocate for ambitious commitments on the global level, such as supporting a legally binding agreement on marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, combatting overfishing through WTO negotiations on a global agreement to ban harmful fisheries subsidies, and applying zero tolerance towards illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

It is high time we act to protect our biodiversity. This strategy is a welcome step forward and we will continue to closely follow the Commission’s proposals linked to it, as well as the Member States’ work and accountability to those proposals.

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